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Meet the Director
Meet the Director 150 150
Portrait of Mary Kane in front of the United States Diplomacy Center banner

Mary Kane, Director of the United States Diplomacy Center, served previously as President and CEO of Sister Cities International.

Mary D. Kane became Director of the Center on April 2.  She brings a wealth of public and private sector experience to the project, having served as President and CEO of Sister Cities International, a citizen diplomacy network created by President Eisenhower 61 years ago to promote international peace, understanding, and cooperation.  It has over 500 city, county, or state members that have entered into partnerships with their counterparts across the globe.  Mary has also been Executive Director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Secretary of State for Maryland where she led the Governor’s Subcabinet on International Affairs.  She was instrumental in establishing the Maryland “Safe at Home” program for victims of domestic violence.

She has served on the Board of Trustees of Johns Hopkins Medicine at Suburban Hospital and as a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Public-Private Partnerships.  In 2016, she was named one of the top 25 “Women Who Mean Business” in the Washington, DC, region.

She received her law degree from the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and earned her B.S. in Business and Finance from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, where she is now the first woman Chair of the Board of Trustees.  She and her husband have three grown children.

Understanding Diplomacy through Data
Understanding Diplomacy through Data 150 150

In May, over one hundred students competed in the student-led hackathon, MakeSPP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Samay Shamdasani, along with his co-organizers, Shashwat Punjani, Nathan Blumenfeld, Jonas Eaton, Thomas Narramore, Dan Ambrosio, Owen Kealey, and Tyler Greene organized the hackathon. Hackathons are collaborative, competitive events where computer programmers are provided raw data or project prompts from a variety of topics that they turn into usable prototypes in a limited amount of time. At the end of the event, judges determine a winning project based on technological and creative achievement. At MakeSPP, the United States Diplomacy Center submitted topics for the competitors that focused on the growth of American diplomatic relations. Five student groups selected the Diplomacy Center for their data visualization projects, with incredible results. In eight short hours, students applied their coding skills to State Department data to produce ventures ranging from creative analysis to Virtual Reality projects. Kelsey Cvach of the Diplomacy Center served as judge and selected three winners.

The first winner was Jeffrey Yu, who built a functional interactive that traced the exchange of diplomats over time. For the prototype, he focused on 1817, the first year the data was available, 1940, as World War II was beginning, and 2006, a year in modern time. Says Yu, “As someone just starting to learn about data visualization, I hope to continue developing programs that will help the world understand important data representing foreign affairs and become a citizen diplomat myself.”

The next winning team used the same exchange of data and applied the project not only to the United States diplomatic relationships but included the relationships other countries have with each other around the world. The team, consisting of Kashyap Murali, Jinal Shah, Aditya Patil, and Krishnan Ram, described their experience: “We were excited after reading the prompt, but we grew more passionate about the project after exploring the numerous opportunities for insights provided by the data. Both the people and the government can use these insights to better communicate and understand their diplomatic landscape.”

The final winning team, led by Abhinav Dusi, built a prototype of an interactive map that attempted to demonstrate the growth of U.S. missions since the United States founding. They used the State Department website to pinpoint and compile establishment of diplomatic relationship dates and produced a timeline interactive map which showed U.S. embassies appearing worldwide over time. They went above and beyond the project prompt, incorporating photos of embassies and descriptions from the State Department website.

The remarkable response demonstrates a passion and excitement from tech-inclined students to apply their talents to diplomacy and international insight. The United States Diplomacy Center has invited these distinguished students to participate in its first-ever hackathon, which will take place at the Diplomacy Center Pavilion and World Resources Institute offices September 21st and 22nd. Interested participants should register through ImpactHack.devpost.com. Those interesting in volunteering or sponsoring the Diplomacy Center’s hackathon should contact Kelsey Cvach directly at cvachkl@america.gov.

Citizen Diplomacy Challenge Photo Contest
Citizen Diplomacy Challenge Photo Contest 150 150

The United States Diplomacy Center is pleased to host an exhibit featuring the finalists of the 2017-2018 Citizen Diplomacy Challenge Photo Contest run by the Office of Alumni Affairs in the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  Twenty top photos, submitted by Americans who took part in international exchange programs sponsored by the Department, will be on display May 21 to 24, 2018.  The photos showcase the value and impact of these people-to-people exchange programs. Each image tells a story about what it means to be a citizen diplomat, and how international exchanges touch lives and communities.

The Citizen Diplomacy Challenge was launched in 2015 as an opportunity for the network of more than 350,000 American citizen alumni to share their exchange impact stories and promote international awareness in their communities.  The grand prize winner Ian Knight will be in Washington, DC to tour the exhibition and participate in events that promote citizen diplomacy. On Thursday, May 24, Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, will honor Ian and meet exchange alumni who are now working at the State Department.

Speed Mentoring
Speed Mentoring 150 150

Speed Mentoring

In honor of International Women’s History Month, the Diplomacy Center organized a speed mentorship event for State Department interns, offering them a unique opportunity to network with Foreign Service and Civil Service female leaders at the State Department representing diverse ranks, cones, and backgrounds. The event was organized in cooperation with the Office of Student Programs and Fellowships, April 9, 2018. Enjoy photos below.

A Legacy Remembered: Perspectives of the Marshall Plan
A Legacy Remembered: Perspectives of the Marshall Plan 150 150

On April 3, in cooperation with the George C. Marshall Foundation, the United States Diplomacy Center held an event recognizing the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the European Recovery Program, more commonly known as the Marshall Plan.  125 guests attended, including Marshall Foundation and Diplomacy Center Foundation Board members, academics, and Department of State staff. Mary Kane, the Center’s director, welcomed guests and introduced Michelle Giuda, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, who previewed the event’s topic and guest speakers:  Dr. Alison Mann, Public Historian of the U.S. Diplomacy Center; Dr. Rob Havers, President of the Marshall Foundation; Dr. Daniel Hamilton, the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Professor at School for Advanced International Studies; Dr. Benn Steil, Director of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Marshall Plan:  Dawn of the Cold War; A. Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; Ambassador Thomas Pickering (ret.); David O’Sullivan, European Union Ambassador to the United States; Hendrik Schuwer, Dutch Ambassador to the United States; and Peter Wittig, German Ambassador to the United States.

The first half of the program focused on the historic importance and lasting legacy of the Marshall Plan. Dr. Mann explained how the Diplomacy Center features aspects of the Plan on its social media platforms and outlined the Center’s future exhibit on the Plan, which will focus on its impact on Europe as well as the American economy and workforce.  Dr. Havers paid tribute to the character of George C. Marshall, calling him a visionary and strategic leader.  Dr. Hamilton noted the Plan’s influence on continuing Euro-American trade partnerships, and Dr. Steil discussed how the Plan exacerbated existing tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union, precipitating the Cold War.

In the second half of the program, American and European diplomats discussed the Plan’s enduring influence.  A. Wess Mitchell described the Plan as an “act of strategic foresight,” restoring Europe to order while strengthening America’s economy.  Ambassadors Wittig, Schuwer, and O’Sullivan spoke of the Plan’s impact on their respective countries, and all stressed a common point: the enduring American-European alliance had its roots in the Marshall Plan.  Ambassador Wittig noted that Germany remains grateful for America’s aid to a former adversary.  Ambassador Schuwer took the audience back to the dire situation in the Netherlands in 1947 with 70 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed by deliberate flooding by retreating Germans.  Within 10 days of the Plan’s signing, he continued, a ship filled with life-saving American-grown wheat from Galveston, Texas, arrived in Rotterdam to a 3:00 a.m. firework display.  Ambassador O’Sullivan brought a continental perspective, saying the Plan encouraged European cooperation,  paving the way for the creation of the European Union.  Fittingly, he reminded the audience that, with the exception of the Balkan Wars, the continent has enjoyed peace, freedom, and prosperity for the past 70 years. Ambassador Pickering stressed the importance of the critical transatlantic relationship and moderated a lively question and answer session.  Dr. Havers concluded the informative and engaging program.

50th Anniversary of the Tet Offensive
50th Anniversary of the Tet Offensive 150 150

To commemorate the recent 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the United States Diplomacy Center hosted a panel of eye witnesses — including retired diplomats and a former journalist — as well as a military historian to take us back to the night of the attack. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Michelle Giuda introduced our panelists: Dr. Erik Villard, Military Historian at the U.S. Army Center for Military History; retired Ambassador E. Allan Wendt, who was the duty officer the night of the attack; Don North, a former ABC journalist who witnessed and reported on the attack; retired Foreign Service Officer James Nach who served in Saigon in the early 1970s, and Eric Duyck, the Diplomacy Center’s Collections Manager.

Dr. Villard set the historic stage for the audience, contextualizing the Viet Cong offensive and explaining how the embassy building had been designed to withstand an attack. Ambassador Wendt spoke about his experiences as the duty officer during the attack, including relaying information back to Washington and carrying a wounded marine to safety. Don North spoke about his experience of being outside the embassy compound, lying flat on the sidewalk, witnessing the siege until the end, as well as about his efforts to try to interview embassy staff the next day. James Nach and Eric Duyck showed the audience two items that Nach donated to the Diplomacy Center, including a Vietnamese “Family Tree” that Nach drew on a large piece of paper to show the family relationships among Vietnam’s political leaders, and a piece of concrete he salvaged from the sidewalk outside the Embassy. To stay updated, follow our Facebook page. See pictures of the event here.

Panel: The First African American Diplomats
Panel: The First African American Diplomats 150 150

In commemoration of African American History Month, the Center hosted a program highlighting the little known diplomatic careers of Ebenezer Bassett and Frederick Douglass.  The program was held on February 14th in honor of the bicentennial of Douglass’s birth.  Both of these men served as U.S. Ministers — an early title equivalent to Ambassador — to Haiti in the late 19th century.  Bassett, appointed by President Grant, was the United States’s first African American diplomat, serving from 1869 to 1877.  Douglass, a well-known abolitionist, writer, activist and civil servant, was appointed by President Harrison and served from 1889 to 1891.

Dr. Alison Mann, the Center’s public historian, was joined by Bassett biographer and Foreign Service Officer Christopher Teal, and by the curator of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Dr. Ka’mal McLaurin.  Mr. Teal related how Bassett arrived in Haiti in the midst of a civil war and demonstrated extraordinary leadership and diplomatic skills as hundredsof refugees took shelter on his compound.  Screening portions of his upcoming documentary, Mr. Teal showed how Bassett negotiated the refugees’s safe passage to their homes, establishing himself as an early advocate for international human rights.  Dr. Mann then spoke about Douglass’s efforts to negotiate with the Haitian government for a lease of a coaling station for U.S. ships.  Dr. McLaurin then showcased several artifacts associated with Douglass during his time in the Caribbean: a Panama hat, a Bible given to him upon his departure for Haiti by the congregation of the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan AME Church, his diplomatic commission, and his passport.

One of our more popular events, the program attracted students, educators, Smithsonian Institution staff, area residents, retired ambassadors, and Department of State staff.  In addition, Bassett scholars from Connecticut and a descendant of Bassett’s attended.

See more photos of the event.

A Passport Without A Photo
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Before affixed photographs were required in 1914, applicants swore “solemnly and sincerely” to be U.S. citizens and identified themselves by facial features, hair, eye, and complexion color. This is one of the oldest passports in our collection from 1859-belonging to Samuel Waller (1824-1864). A New York City dry goods importer, Waller traveled frequently to Europe to buy fine clothing for resale. While passports for international travel were not required until 1941, U.S. travelers often did so to prove their American citizenship for protection during foreign wars; in Waller’s case, the Franco-Austrian War. His economic forays served him well, for at the time of his death at the age of 40, his estate was valued at $166,000 (2.5 million today)! Waller identified himself as having a “straight” mouth, “round” chin, and “florid” (ruddy) complexion. But how could anyone tell under that fashionable beard!

Embassies as Safe Houses
Embassies as Safe Houses 150 150

Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty was the highest Catholic official in Hungary in the mid-20th century, and a vociferous opponent of communism.  After WWII, as the Soviet Union’s political influence extended through Eastern Europe, Mindszenty was tried, convicted of treason in 1949, and sentenced to life in prison.  He was released in 1956 during a political reform movement, which the Soviet army quickly suppressed.  Realizing his life was in danger, Mindszenty sought and received asylum as a political dissident at U.S. Embassy Budapest on November 4, 1956—the same day of the Soviet invasion.  The Cardinal remained at the embassy for 15 years, leaving in 1971 to seek medical treatment in Vienna, where he died in 1975.  Before leaving the embassy, he gave his missal to an American Foreign Service Officer in gratitude to the United States.  Now in our collection, the missal is a liturgical book containing instructions, prayers, and texts necessary for the celebration of Catholic Mass throughout the year.

A Window into American Soft Power in Rural Vietnam
A Window into American Soft Power in Rural Vietnam 150 150

The United States Diplomacy Center was pleased to host an event featuring up-close and personal stories of diplomacy on October 18: A Window into American Soft Power in Rural Vietnam, 1962-1964. We were joined by retired Foreign Service Officer Robert Warne, his spouse Susanna (Suzy), and retired United States Government official, Rufus Phillips. Phillips is the author of Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned and was featured in the first two episodes of the 2017 PBS documentary, The Vietnam War. Phillips spent 14 years working on Vietnam foreign policy issues after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and was considered in the early years of the Kennedy administration to be an expert advisor on how best to counter the communist influence of the Viet Cong army in South Vietnam. He conceived of the Rural Affairs Program—executed by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development –—to support counterinsurgency and rural development of “strategic hamlets” in the Mekong Delta. For staff, he recruited the best and the brightest in economic development. At the age of 23, Robert Warne had newly joined the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, after serving in the U.S. Army as the commander of an artillery battery.

Robert and Suzy Warne faced many challenges during their two-year assignment to Vinh Long and Binh Dinh, two provinces in the Mekong Delta. Illustrating his talk with maps and personal photos of himself and Suzy working with local villagers, Warne spoke about his consultations with the provinces’ chiefs on rural economic practices and development, assisting locals to improve refugee conditions, access to water, and pig farming. Suzy Warne taught at the local school, and described in vivid detail what daily life was like for a young Foreign Service spouse with a 6-month old daughter. She half-jokingly said she thought her greatest problem in Vietnam would be to find a diaper service, but after arrival she realized the vulnerabilities and dangers posed by the presence of the Viet Cong. She said that “Rob” taught her how to fire a carbine, and she kept it within close reach in her bedroom wardrobe. Nevertheless, she said the two years in Vietnam were some of the best years of her life, as she enjoyed entertaining the locals and teaching the young villagers.

Following the panel, the collections manager spoke about Vietnam-related artifacts in the collection, including service medals, a chart made by a Foreign Service Officer depicting the familial connections between key Vietnamese officials, and a piece of concrete salvaged from outside the U.S. Embassy in Saigon near its wall damaged in the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Check out our Flickr album or Facebook page for more photos!

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